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Midwest Energy News: ELPC’s Rob Kelter Says Volkswagen Settlement Funds Should Promote Electric Vehicle Ownership

Midwest Groups Seek Share of Volkswagen Settlement Funds for Electric Vehicles
February 28, 2017
By Andy Balaskovitz

A coalition of six Midwest clean energy groups are seeking a share of $1.2 billion allocated for zero-emissions vehicles as part of last year’s settlement in Volkswagen’s emissions-cheating scandal.

Additionally, the groups hope to see millions more in “beneficiary mitigation” funds spent on clean transportation initiatives that are also part of the settlement and directed to each state.

A January 18 letter to Volkswagen from the coalition Charge Up Midwest highlights clean transportation efforts underway in Chicago, Columbus, Detroit and Minneapolis-St. Paul, suggesting these could be areas for additional investment.

“We emphasize these specific market segments in metro areas because charging station deployment at these sites will likely have the greatest potential to accelerate EV adoption,” the letter says. “These areas — particularly multi-unit dwellings and disadvantaged communities — also present unique deployment challenges to would-be market participants.”

Charge Up Midwest — made up of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Ecology Center, Great Plains Institute, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Clean Fuels Ohio and Fresh Energy — was formed to coordinate EV adoption efforts in the region, which has lagged behind coastal cities in deployment, the group notes.

“With many large population centers separated by longer distances than urban areas on the East Coast, the value of a robust DC Fast Charging Network in the Midwest becomes even more critical to supporting EV adoption and driving additional EV sales by prospective vehicle buyers,” the letter adds.

While major utilities in states like Michigan, Missouri and Ohio have proposed electric vehicle infrastructure programs, they have seen limited success and, in particular, challenges from the private sector over the role utilities should play in building a charging network.

Selection Underway

States and various other groups across the country have submitted plans to Electrify America, an entity created during the Volkswagen settlement to oversee $2 billion worth of Zero-Emissions Vehicle projects across the country. California is allocated $800 million, and Electrify America will invest the remaining $1.2 billion in projects across the U.S. over the next 10 years.

Electrify America submitted its first round of investment plans to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Feb. 22. An Electrify America spokesperson said last week that the proposals will be made public “at a later date.” The Zero Emissions Vehicle fund will go toward building charging stations as well as education and outreach.

Charles Griffith, director of the climate and energy program for the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Ecology Center, said the Volkswagen letter was one of the first actions taken up by Charge Up Midwest.

“We wanted to make sure the region didn’t get left behind, and we want to make our case about that,” Griffith said.

Also as part of the Volkswagen settlement, the Ecology Center has also been working with the state of Michigan over how to potentially spend money in the state’s environmental mitigation fund from the settlement. The goal of those dollars is to reduce emissions from the transportation sector. Michigan was allotted more than $60 million under the settlement. Other Midwest states range from $97.7 million for Illinois to $14.7 million for Kansas.

“Since each state will have its own process to qualify for the funds that have been pre-allocated by a formula for each of the states, members of our Midwest campaign each are trying to influence the processes within their respective states,” Griffith said.

The Michigan Agency for Energy also submitted a zero-emissions vehicle investment proposal to Electrify America for the state. The seven-point plan includes a focus on electric autonomous vehicles, a “high speed, cross-Michigan” network of charging stations, and clean transportation initiatives in the Detroit area.

Coordinated Effort

Griffith said Charge Up Midwest was not formed as a result of the Volkswagen settlement, but that there is a need for a coordinated approach in the region to EV infrastructure development, particularly as a growing number of utilities pitch plans for their service areas.

“Our focus is on getting the charging infrastructure right in terms of where the stations go and how they’re funded,” said Robert Kelter, a senior attorney with the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago. “Once we get to the stations themselves, there remains a question about whether there should be a competitive market for charging or if it should be utility-owned and operated stations. I think that issue has not yet been determined.”

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WBEZ’s Reveal: ELPC’s Handheld Air Monitor & Intern Eve Robinson Featured in Diesel Pollution & Schools Special Report

WBEZ 91.5 Chicago Public Radio
Reveal Show: School Haze
February 18, 2017

Across the country, thousands of public schools are within 500 feet of pollution-choked roads like highways and truck routes. On Reveal, we investigate the high levels of exhaust surrounding U.S. schools and how the bad air is affecting the millions of children who are breathing it in.

LISTEN HERE

 

Chicago Tribune: Innovative Ideas for Chicago’s Pedway Emerge from ELPC-sponsored Workshops

Chicago Tribune
January 21, 2017

… Ideas Floated for Pedway

By Blair Kamin

Live performances in the mothballed CTA superstation below Block 37. Temporary food carts. Art displays. Shafts of natural light. Touches of greenery. Visible security patrols.

Those were among ideas that nearly 100 people recently floated at three workshops aimed at making downtown Chicago’s confusing and visually dreary network of underground tunnels and corridors easier to navigate and more attractive.

The network, called the pedway, connects more than 50 buildings and is used by thousands of people on weekdays, particularly during extreme and inclement weather. No one thinks it’s perfect, the workshops revealed, but the sessions also aired different, though not necessarily irreconcilable, goals on how to make the pedway better.

“Maybe there’s a tension between form and function,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, the nonprofit that sponsored the workshops. “There are some who are saying, ‘It needs to be made cleaner, better lit, better maintained, just an easier way to get around.’ There are others who say, ‘This can be made more exciting.'”

Individual building owners — including the city, state and county — operate sections of the pedway, which has grown piecemeal since its first sections opened in 1951. Yet inconsistencies in everything from operating hours to temperature levels frustrate users of the system. City transportation officials are backing efforts to upgrade the network, starting with a key stretch beneath Randolph Street that was the focus of the workshops.

The top priorities that emerged from the sessions, Learner said, are better signs and maps that will improve navigation, common hours and operating policies that will unify the pedway, and new activities that will make the network exciting, engaging, even hip, like underground networks in Montreal and Atlanta.

To do all that, the nonprofit will need to build a constituency of public officials and private businesses that will support the effort — and, in all likelihood, pay for it.

The next step calls for a team of design consultants to lead open workshops Monday through Friday at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St. The team is composed of Billings Jackson Design of Chicago, which specializes in “wayfinding” systems; British engineers BuroHappold; and New York’s Davis Brody Bond architects.

“Part of what they’re going to do is put a lot of stuff upon the wall and they’ll incorporate the conceptual (ideas) that people have raised” at the workshops, Learner said. Key players, from officials in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office to executives at Macy’s State Street store, which has a connection to the pedway, will be invited in to comment. So will members of the public.

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Chicago Tonight: ELPC’s David McEllis Says ELPC Will Be Committed to Energy Policy During Trump Administration

Chicago TonightChicago Activists Prepare to Defend Environment Under Trump
January 24, 2017
By Alex Ruppenthal

On the eve of last week’s presidential inauguration, dozens of Chicago activists met to plan a defense of environmental policies that appear vulnerable under the administration of President Donald Trump.

About 100 people gathered Jan. 19 at Loyola University’s School of Law to hear from leaders of the Sierra Club, National Resources Defense Council, Environmental Law Policy Center and other groups about their agendas for 2017 and beyond – first and foremost, how to protect the environment during the Trump years.

“Donald Trump is going to become president tomorrow, and I’m frankly terrified about what that means for the environment,” said Kady McFadden, deputy director of the Sierra Club’s Illinois Chapter.

Also on the panel was the Rev. Booker Steven Vance, poilcy director for Faith in Place, an Illinois group that encourages religious institutions to work on environmental issues.

Minutes after Trump’s swearing-in Friday, all references to global warming and climate change disappeared from the official website of the White House, whitehouse.gov.

The updated version instead featured a section called “An American First Energy Plan” that pledged to eliminate “burdensome regulations on our energy industry … such as the Climate Action Plan.”

Another indication of Trump’s environmental agenda is his nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, who has described himself as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.”

“States are going to have a much greater role in protecting the environment under the Trump administration, particularly if the EPA is led by Scott Pruitt,” said state Rep. Robyn Gabel, D-Evanston, one of several legislators in attendance. “A lot of the protection we think is going to be sent down to the states.”

McFadden said she would be watching for violations of the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and threats to funding for environmental agencies and programs. She also planned to track updates related to the Paris Agreement on climate change, Keystone XL pipeline and Dakota Access pipeline.

“I’ll stop just at the high-level threats and not go on and on,” she said.

Trump on Tuesday signed executive orders to advance the controversial Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, though it was unclear exactly how the orders would affect the projects, which had been halted during environmental reviews legislated under President Barack Obama.

Also on Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that Trump’s administration had banned EPA employees from providing updates on social media or to reporters. Trump also put a freeze on new contracts or grants issued by the agency, the AP reported.

McFadden said Trump’s anti-environment agenda is out of step with the stance of most Americans, particularly on issues such as clean water and the need to invest in renewable energy.

“We have public opinion,” she said. “Frankly, we have the economy on our side – moving toward clean energy, moving away from dirty fossil fuels. And there’s not much that Congress or President Trump can do about that.

“The more that this Congress and this administration overreaches, the more it exposes that gap between what they’re doing and what the public really wants and thinks,” McFadden continued. “It’s our job to really expose and talk about that.”

Trump’s proposed environmental actions figure to create “a big tent of allies” for environmental activists, McFadden said. But they shouldn’t count on others doing the work, she said.

“If you care about the environment and you don’t know who your state senator is, I would argue that you truly don’t care about the environment enough,” McFadden said. “These folks should be hearing from you and knowing your opinions.”

Notwithstanding the Trump administration’s emerging policies, the passing of a landmark energy jobs bill last month in Springfield has activists feeling better about environmental causes in Illinois.

“Despite what you might be feeling about things at the federal level, things are going in our favor here in Illinois,” said Jen Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council, which organized the meeting.

Even with certain U.S. policies at risk, the market for clean energy investors is stable, said Tim Polz of SoCore, a Chicago-based solar portfolio development company.

“I think the consensus throughout our industry is that federal policy is pretty well set at the moment, at least energy policy, toward renewable energy,” Polz said. “We could always use stronger support, but we have a long-term investment tax credit in place which helps drive our industry. And on the wind side, we have the production tax credit, which will be around for the next several years.”

As Trump’s environmental agenda comes into focus, ELPC’s David McEllis said the organization would make sure work continues at Department of Energy National Laboratories, including Lemont’s Argonne National Laboratory, which houses 15 research divisions and five national scientific user facilities.

Within Illinois, McEllis said ELPC would be monitoring payments owed by coal companies to reclaim land polluted by coal mining.

“The coal industry is losing money – some of the biggest coal companies are going bankrupt,” said McEllis, noting one company, Peabody Energy, which owes $92 million in reclamation costs to the state of Illinois. “We think the coal industry should pay for their own cleanup – not taxpayers.”

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch: ELPC’s Learner Says Peabody Must Be Responsible for Cleanup

st-louis-post-dispatch-logoPeabody Plans to Hand Shares to Workers After Bankruptcy
January 18, 2017
By Bryce Gray

All Peabody Energy employees may own a piece of the company when it emerges from bankruptcy.

The coal company said Monday that it intended to issue shares to all 7,000 employees as part of its reorganization plan, which calls for canceling Peabody’s current shares and replacing them with new stock, most of which would be owned by creditors.

First, though, the company must navigate a series of hearings in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in St. Louis. On Thursday, the court will hear arguments from shareholders who are upset about seeing their investments wiped out. It is the company’s first time before the court since it submitted a reorganization plan last month.

Thursday’s hearing will address whether an official equity committee should be established to represent the interests of shareholders. Peabody and a committee of unsecured creditors have filed motions opposing the request.

Shareholders who support forming a committee have said they question Peabody’s valuation of itself in the Chapter 11 bankruptcy process.

“The price is nowhere near reality,” says Mark Gottlieb, a New Jersey-based Peabody investor who argues that the company is deliberately overlooking a rebound in coal prices. “The only [coal company] who says we’re still at the depth of the depression of coal is Peabody Energy and that’s because they want the low valuation.”

Peabody denies that it is undervaluing itself.

“The company recognizes that any Chapter 11 process is challenging for a number of stakeholders,” Peabody said in a statement released Monday. “While objections are a natural part of the process, Peabody has advanced a plan of reorganization that it believes maximizes the value of the enterprise.”

Peabody confirmed that shareholders “are unlikely to receive any value and their shares are likely to be canceled,” an outcome it has predicted for months.

On Jan. 26, another hearing will feature a broader discussion of Peabody’s proposed reorganization plan.

That conversation is likely to include concerns about the company’s coverage of environmental cleanup costs. Critics have said that it is not clear how the company will account for reclamation obligations in states that allow self-bonding, a practice in which companies pledge to cover future cleanup costs. Peabody’s self-bonding obligations were only partially covered in an August bankruptcy ruling.

“Peabody should not be able to shift its obligation for reclamation and cleanup costs onto the public – onto taxpayers,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, an organization challenging Peabody’s plan. Learner says any reorganization plan should not be considered feasible until self-bonding concerns are addressed.

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Audubon: Climate Communications Field Manager

Position Summary:

The Climate Field Communications Manager will be responsible for amplifying local visibility related to Audubon’s climate initiative program. S/he Manager will oversee and implement Audubon’s climate field communications strategy throughout the Audubon network with an emphasis on priority states. Reporting to the Climate Campaigns Director, be an instrumental member of the Climate Initiative’s core team. The Field Communications Manager will also ensure that the Audubon network receives the communications support it needs to address climate change action at the local, state and national level while creating safe political space and a greater demand for change for climate solutions.

Please include a cover letter when submitting your resume to this position.

Essential Functions:

  • Secure high quality media coverage at local levels across all types of earned media ‐digital, print, broadcast.
  • Develop strategic media relations plans and campaigns, in collaboration with other staff and partners.
  • Develop, edit and distribute press materials and messaging points specifically for network‐based climate efforts
  • Generate and edit templates for letters to the editor, op‐eds and other tools for the field
  • Respond to local media requests from the network, specifically from field organizers in their climate efforts
  • Coordinate and lead editorial board visits
  • Maintain relationships with reporters and news outlets
  • Training and supporting network spokespeople to communicate about Audubon’s climate efforts
  • Ongoing coordination and integration with Network and climate and energy advocacy strategies
  • Manage projects and campaigns on time and on budget.
  • Other duties as assigned.

Qualifications and Experience:

  • Bachelor’s degree in public relations, journalism, marketing, or related field; t equivalent experience may be considered in lieu of education.
  • 5+ of professional experience working in public relations, marketing, or communications‐related field; 2 years experience managing people/teams and logistics preferred.
  • Proven track record of high quality media placements
  • Exceptional organizational and project management capacity with demonstrated ability to manage complex campaigns
  • Strong written and verbal communication skills including writing for press release and talking points
  • Meticulous attention to detail, resourceful, with a can‐do attitude
  • Understanding of and interest in how grassroots and advocacy strategies works with media
  • Experience leading media trainings and coaching spokespeople
  • Familiarity and experience utilizing both paid and earned media strategies
  • A self‐starter, one who is motivated, able to work in a decentralized work environment with minimal supervision, and juggle multiple projects simultaneously
  • Background in issue advocacy and energy/conservation issues a plus
  • Ability to work independently, as well as be a strong team player
  • Experience conducting editorial board visits
  • Demonstrated aptitude for clear message development and message discipline
  • Ability to balance eye for detail with compelling overarching vision
  • Ability to improvise and problem‐solve with clarity and steadiness
  • Comfort working in a fast‐paced, rapidly changing environment
  • Established base of contacts in high‐profile national media outlets
  • Proficiency with Excel, Word, PowerPoint, and other key Microsoft Office and web‐based products
  • Spanish speaking and writing skills preferred
  • Travel required

Apply Here

Des Moines Register: ELPC’s Mandelbaum Says Real-Time Measurements of Water Quality is Vital

Des-Moines-RegisterCan Iowa Improve its Water Quality if it Can’t Agree How to Measure Success?
November 19, 2016
By Donnelle Eller and MacKenzie Elmer

As Iowa lawmakers prepare to battle again over investing hundreds of millions of dollars to improve water quality, a new and controversial debate is looming: What measurement should the state use to determine whether that spending is working?

A big part of Iowa’s efforts to improve its rivers, streams and lakes centers on farmers adopting conservation practices spelled out in the state’s ambitious Nutrient Reduction Strategy, which seeks to slash nitrogen and phosphorous levels in the state’s waterways by 45 percent.

But a political divide has emerged over the best way to measure the success of those improvements:

  • Environmentalists, water advocates and scientists want Iowa to rely on real-time water-quality monitoring, building on the state’s existing work to measure how well the state’s conservation efforts are working.
  • Farm groups prefer a yardstick that leans on counting how many acres of cover crops, grassed waterways and other conservation practices have been put in place, presuming that the more Iowa has, the better its water quality will be. Working with Iowa State University scientists and an industry-led nonprofit, they’re working on a plan to precisely track conservation gains.

The problem is that neither method guarantees that Iowa will be able to quickly figure out whether water quality is actually improving.

The reason: Farm practices that cut nitrate and phosphorus levels likely will take more than a decade to produce results in major rivers and lakes.

Iowa could invest “tens of millions of dollars” in added water-quality monitoring and “not know a lot more than what we do now,” said Bill Northey, Iowa’s agriculture secretary.

Moreover, he said, money spent on monitoring would take away from conservation practice investments that help improve water.

“If we only have a certain pool of dollars, taking from one has an impact on the other,” Northey said.

But without a good measurement for success, persuading lawmakers to fund millions of dollars in water quality improvements could be a difficult sell.

Proposals to fund a major water-quality cleanup in Iowa have ranged from increasing the sales tax three-eighths of 1 cent to diverting projected revenue growth from an existing statewide sales tax for school infrastructure.

‘We’re Tired of Cheerleading’

What’s beyond the dispute is that water quality in Iowa is a serious problem: Half of the rivers, streams and lakes that scientists have assessed are considered impaired.

Environmental advocates such as Josh Mandelbaum, an attorney at Environmental Law & Policy Center, are pushing hard for real-time measurements, arguing that investing in terraces, bioreactors or other water improvement practices without such measurements risks wasting years of money and effort.

“You need to actually check the water to see if the water quality is improved,” Mandelbaum said.

Bill Stowe, CEO of the Des Moines Water Works, the utility suing north Iowa drainage districts over high nitrate levels, said agricultural leaders want to focus on measuring conservation practices, instead of water quality, to hide the state’s lack of progress.

“We’re tired of the cheerleading about minuscule gains in acres of cover crops, and ribbon cutting for biofilters,” said Stowe, who calls the volunteer Nutrient Reduction Plan ineffective, since it has no deadlines to meet its goals.

The utility seeks federal oversight of drainage districts, and indirectly, farmers.

“Data is key, and we’re not seeing that,” he said.

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Press Release: New Report Reveals Illinois & Other States Failing to Manage Nitrogen & Phosphorus Pollution in our Waterways, Mississippi River

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 17, 2016

Contact: Judith Nemes, Environmental Law & Policy Center
JNemes@elpc.org 312-795-3706

Kim Knowles, Prairie Rivers Network
KKnowles@prairierivers.org 314-341-1641

New Report Reveals Illinois and Other States Failing to Manage Nitrogen & Phosphorus Pollution in our Waterways
Environmental Coalition Calls on EPA to Step Up Efforts to Reduce Nutrient Pollution in Mississippi River

Mississippi River – The Mississippi River Collaborative (MRC) today released a report that implores the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take specific actions to clean up nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in Illinois and nine other states, because those states have failed to make sufficient pollution reductions. The 10 states included in the report all border the Mississippi River and send their pollution to the river and ultimately to the Gulf of Mexico.

The report, “Decades of Delay,” was prepared by MRC, a partnership of 13 environmental and legal groups, and assesses state progress in reducing the pollution that threatens drinking water supplies for millions of Americans and causes the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone.

The report finds that nitrogen and phosphorus continue to pose serious threats to Illinois waters, interfering with the public’s use and enjoyment, and threatening the health of people and aquatic life. Illinois lakes have been especially devastated by phosphorus pollution.

“EPA’s hands-off approach is simply not working in Illinois. Every summer our lakes and beaches are fouled by noxious, smelly and sometimes toxic algal blooms,” said Kim Knowles, Staff Attorney at Prairie Rivers Network. “The state lacks a rigorous program for addressing this scourge.”

“For 20 years, we have been told the EPA and the states would address the nitrogen and phosphorus pollution that fouls our rivers and lakes and perpetuates the Gulf Dead Zone,” said Jessica Dexter, Staff Attorney, Environmental Law & Policy Center, an MRC member. “This report demonstrates the falsity of that claim. EPA should use the tools outlined in the report to uphold the Clean Water Act and get us on a path to clean rivers and streams.”

The report suggests six specific steps EPA can take to protect human health and water quality in state waters. Recommendations include setting numeric limits of allowable nitrogen and phosphorus in state waters, assessing more waterways to determine the full extent and impact of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, and making sure states develop rigorous plans for reducing pollution and for procuring the funding needed to address this significant problem.

###

Decades of Delay Executive Summary
Decades of Delay Full Report

Midwest Energy News: ELPC’s Kelter Says Ohio Proposal Bad For Customers

Midwest-Energy-News-Logo

Ohio Utility Seeks to Double Its Fixed Distribution Charges

By Kathiann M. Kowalski

In response to an increasing number of customers installing solar power or opting for energy efficiency measures, American Electric Power has asked Ohio regulators to increase the share of distribution charges that all its utility customers must pay, regardless of how much electricity they use.

AEP Ohio has seen a jump in its solar net metering customers from 286 in 2011 to 983 currently, said company spokesperson Terri Flora. The company’s website says it serves nearly 1.5 million total customers.

“This increase in net metering customers is currently resulting in a shift of the recovery of fixed costs from net metering customers to non-net metering customers,” Flora said, explaining the rationale for the proposed change.
While the proposal is “revenue neutral,” according to Flora, clean energy advocates say it would more than double customers’ fixed distribution charges. That, in turn, decreases incentives for energy efficiency and solar energy.

“When you raise the fixed customer charge, what you’re doing is you’re taking control out of the customer’s hands to control their own bills by using less electricity,” said Rob Kelter at the Environmental Law & Policy Center.
A ‘huge change’

Electricity bills for Ohio consumers have two parts: a charge for regulated distribution services provided by the utility in their geographic area, and a generation charge for electricity supplied competitively by either the utility or another company.

Some charges on the distribution part of the bill are made regardless of how much electricity a customer uses. From the customer’s perspective, it’s a charge for having service available, regardless of how much or how little is used from the grid.

The rest of the distribution charge varies with the amount of electricity used by the customer. So, the more electricity that’s used, the higher the total distribution charge.

From the AEP’s perspective, though, “virtually all distribution costs are fixed costs,” Flora said.

“AEP Ohio is only proposing to move a portion of [those] costs into the fixed customer charge,” she continued. “Our average cost is $27.24 per customer, and we are proposing a customer charge of $18.40.”

That would be more than twice the current fixed charge of $8.40.

Approval of the proposal would be a “a huge change” in Ohio regulatory policy with “big ramifications for customers,” Kelter said.

Read More at http://midwestenergynews.com/2016/08/26/ohio-utility-seeks-to-double-its-fixed-distribution-charges/

Join Chicago’s Earth Day Rally!

Pastries for the PlanetFINALNOSC

Join Chicago’s Environmental Community for

CHICAGO’S EARTH DAY RALLY

Speakers Include Reps. Mike Quigley and Jan Schakowsky

Plus Environmental and Civic Leaders

Come by with Friends

Help Us Celebrate Earth Day on April 22nd!

Friday, April 22, 2016 from 8:15-9:45 a.m.

At the McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum

(Along the Riverwalk at Michigan, click link for map)

Questions? Contact EarthDay@ELPC.org

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ELPC’s Founding Vision is Becoming Today’s Sustainability Reality

Support ELPC’s Next 20 Years of Successful Advocacy

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